Qebhet

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Definition

by
published on 17 February 2014
Egyptian Sarcophagus ()

Also known as 'Kabechet’ or 'Kebechet’, Qebhet was a goddess of ancient Egypt, the daughter of the god of death, Anubis. She is the personification of cool, refreshing water and is mentioned frequently in the Egyptian Book of the Dead as she brings water to the souls of the dead in the Hall of Truth, where they are judged.

The Egyptians believed that the afterlife was a mirror image of life on earth in Egypt. One of the reasons Egyptians preferred not to campaign far from their land was the concern in dying and being buried somewhere beyond the boundaries of their native land and so not being able to pass on to the Hall of Truth and, from there, to the Field of Reeds. If someone died in Egypt, however great or humble, they were buried in the earth of their mother and so passed on to the afterlife with relative ease. This same paradigm held for all other aspects of the soul. Since they held that the immortal soul had all the needs and desires it did in the body, it might well become thirsty standing in line in the Hall of Truth, and Qebhet would have attended to this need. Although it does not seem she ever had a large cult following, she may have played a part or made some kind of appearance in religious events such as the Festival of the Wadi which was a celebration of the lives of the dead and of the living. The Egyptologist Lynn Meskell writes:

Religious festivals actualized belief; they were not simply social celebrations. They acted in a multiplicity of related spheres. There were festivals of the gods, of the king, and of the dead...The Beautiful Festival of the Wadi was a key example of a festival of the dead, which took place between the harvest and the Nile flood. In it, the divine boat of Amun traveled from the Karnak temple to the necropolis of Western Thebes. A large procession followed, and living and dead were thought to commune near the graves which became houses of the joy of the heart on that occasion. (Nardo, 100).

Qebhet played an important role in the rituals of death in that she assured the still-living that their loved one was cared for. 

One of the most important aspects in honoring the dead in ancient Egypt (as well as Greece and elsewhere) was their remembrance and no one wished to think of their departed loved one thirsting while awaiting trial before the great god Osiris in the afterlife. Qebhet, therefore, played an important role in the rituals of death in that she assured the still-living that their loved one was cared for and, furthermore, that they themselves would also be when it came their own time to stand in the hall of judgement. Further, the ritual cleansing of the body of the corpse by clean water was a vital element in the burial of the dead and Qebhet symbolized this purification.

Qebhet is often pictured as a serpent or an ostrich bringing water. She was never worshipped to the degree of Isis or Hathor but was revered and respected and, at certain times, became associated with the Nile and cults which grew up in worship of the river. As the Nile was associated with Milky Way and the courses of the gods, Qebhet also became linked with the sky in both daylight and darkness. In her role as a purifier, she would also have been linked with the concept of Ma'at, eternal harmony and truth, which was the central guiding principle in ancient Egyptian culture.


About the Author

Joshua J. Mark
A freelance writer and part-time Professor of Philosophy at Marist College, New York, Joshua J. Mark has lived in Greece and Germany and traveled through Egypt. He teaches ancient history, writing, literature, and philosophy.

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